Health Professionals You Might See

Key points

  • A lot of different health professionals can be involved in treating liver disease. Each one has a different job
  • Ask them lots of questions and make sure you understand the answers
  • Write down your questions and take them with you
  • If you can, take someone with you to appointments to make sure you remember

Which health professionals will I see?

If you have are diagnosed with a liver condition, you might see many different health professionals.

Which health professionals care for you depend on your condition and how advanced it is. Here are some of the health professionals you might meet and what you might want to talk to them about.

Clinical nurse consultant (CNC)

A clinical nurse consultant is a nurse who is highly trained in a certain area of medicine. You may see a hepatology clinical nurse consultant who has special expertise in liver conditions. You can talk to them about your symptoms, any side effects you are getting from a treatment you might be on, your concerns regarding your liver disease, and anything else that you feel you need to know. The CNC is often your first port of call and will help you to navigate the healthcare system. They will liaise closely with other specialties.

Diabetes services

If you have liver disease, it’s also important to get your diabetes under control if you have it. The National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS) is available to help you understand and manage diabetes.

Dietitian

An accredited practising dietitian is a health professional who provides expert advice on nutrition and dietetics (how the diet can affect health). You may see a dietitian for help to eat a healthier diet, or if you need to eat a special diet because of your liver condition. You can talk to them about specific questions you have about how to alter your diet. They will work with you to tailor a plan that is personal to you and your tastes.

Drug and alcohol services

If you are finding it difficult to stop drinking alcohol or taking drugs, you may be referred to a drug and alcohol service. Here you’ll see doctors, nurses and counsellors who are specially trained in addiction medicine. You can talk to them about the best way to change your relationship with alcohol or drugs.

Exercise physiologist

Exercise physiologists are health professionals who treat diseases with exercise. You can talk to them to get specific exercise or movement plans that are tailored to your preferences and current fitness.

Gastroenterologist

A gastroenterologist is a specialist doctor who is trained in the digestive system, including the liver, stomach, intestines, pancreas and gallbladder. A gastroenterologist can diagnose and treat liver disease. You may see a gastroenterologist to diagnose problems in your gut, or to have a procedure like an endoscopy or colonoscopy (to look at your gut via a camera on the end of a thin tube). You can talk to them about anything to do with your liver – they are the most highly specialised doctors you may meet during the management of your liver disease.

General practitioner (GP)

Your GP is the first health professional you’re likely to see if you have symptoms or are worried about your liver. A GP’s job is to look after your overall health, not just your liver condition. You can talk to your GP about your liver, the best way to make lifestyle changes, the medications you are taking, your mental health or any other question you may have. They can send you (refer you) to the other people we talk about in this list for more specific help.

Hepatologist

A hepatologist is a specialist gastroenterologist who is trained to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases of the liver, gallbladder, biliary tree and pancreas. You will probably see a hepatologist if you have a liver condition such as cirrhosis, hepatitis, fatty liver disease, primary biliary cholangitis, primary sclerosing cholangitis or liver cancer. You can talk to them about anything to do with your liver – they are the most highly specialised doctors you will meet during the management of your liver disease.

Nurse

A nurse is a health professional who is trained to look after patients and their families in different places like hospitals, aged care, GP clinics and in the community. Nurses will be involved in all aspects of your care, from admission to discharge. Nurses will assist with personal care but will also be involved in monitoring you closely for any signs of infection or complications from procedures, and will give you medications you as prescribed. You can always speak to your nurse about any concerns. A nurse practitioner has even more training and can prescribe medicine. You can talk to them about your care while you are in hospital.

Obesity services

Obesity services, or weight management programs, can be offered by a GP, dietitian or other health professional to help you get your weight under control. Losing even a little bit of weight will improve the health of your liver. You can talk to them to get advice and support that works for you to help you manage your weight.

Oncologist or Radiation oncologist

An oncologist is a specialist doctor who is trained to treat cancer. An oncologist treats cancer with medication, and a radiation oncologist treats cancer with radiation. You may see an oncologist if you have liver cancer. You can talk to your oncologist about medical treatment or radiology treatment for cancer.

Pathologist

A pathologist is a specialist doctor who is trained in how to diagnose disease by looking at the blood and tissues. Whenever you have a blood test or a biopsy, it’s interpreted by a pathologist. You will most likely not meet your pathologist, but their work will closely inform decisions about your care.

Radiologist

A radiologist is a specialist doctor who is trained to carry out and interpret imaging tests like X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans and MRI scans. Radiology can also be used to treat some conditions. You may see a radiologist to diagnose or treat your liver condition. Your radiologist will write a report and send it to your GP or specialists. They won’t discuss their findings with you. This is so that you get the best advice and care.

Social worker

A social worker is an allied health professional who works in a hospital or the community to help people who need support. Social workers are available to help patients, their families and carers with personal and practical challenges. You can talk to a social worker for many reasons, for example if you need help managing finances while you are ill, if you feel like you are not being treated fairly, if you would like a referral to another service, or if you need some advice on how to cope.

Surgeon

A surgeon is a specialist doctor who is trained to perform surgery. There are different types of surgeons who specialise in operating on different parts of the body. The type of surgeon who operates on the liver and digestive tract is called a General Surgeon or a Hepatobiliary Surgeon. You might see a surgeon if you need surgery for conditions of the bile ducts, liver cancer, or a liver transplant. You can talk to your surgeon about any aspect of your operation.


What should I ask my doctor?

It can be hard to take in medical information, especially if you’re worried or stressed during your appointment.

When you see a doctor, it’s really important that you give them all the information they need to treat you properly. Tell them everything you can think of about your symptoms, your lifestyle and any family history of liver disease.

Remember, your medical team is not there to judge you on your decisions or behaviours. Their job is to decide the best treatment for you to give you the highest chance of success. Keeping back important information from your medical team may affect your care.

For example, your medical team would not report you to the police if you tell them that you are currently using drugs. Instead, they would be able to use this information to decide the best course of treatment.

It’s a good idea to go to your appointments with someone else so that they can support you and help you remember what your doctor says.

Before you go

Make a list of this information:

  • How long have you had each of your symptoms? When did your first notice them?
  • How do you feel over a 24-hour period? Are there certain times of day when your symptoms are worse, such as after food or at night?
  • What treatments and medicines have you had before?
  • What medicines are you taking now? List all of them, including prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, herbal remedies, supplements and others.
  • Do you have any other conditions?
  • Do any of your family members have medical conditions?

During the appointment

  • What is this test for?
  • When will I get the results of this test?
  • What is this treatment for?
  • Is there another treatment that would be better for me?
  • Do I need to eat differently?
  • Do I need to make any other changes to my lifestyle?
  • Should I stop taking or change any of my other medications?
  • Does my liver condition affect any of my other conditions?
  • Where can I get more information?

Question builder

This question builder is an online tool that can help you prepare for your medical appointment by creating a list of questions to ask your doctor. You can print or email the list to take with you. It can help you to remember everything you wanted to ask and get the most out of your time with the doctor.

Question Builder was developed by Health Direct and the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care.

You can access it here: Question Builder


Asking for a second opinion

You do not have to stick with one doctor or specialist. If you are not happy with one of your health professionals, you are entitled to ask for a second opinion.

Doctors don’t mind if you get a second opinion. They are used to it. But if you’re nervous about asking for a second opinion, go back to see your GP and ask for a different referral.


Patient rights

Patients in Australia have certain rights that ensure they receive safe and high quality care.

Whether you’re being treated in hospital, general practice or the community, if you’re a public or private patient, you have the right to:

  • access to healthcare services
  • safety
  • respect
  • partnership and honest communication
  • information, including if something goes wrong
  • privacy
  • ability to give feedback.

If you feel you haven’t received appropriate healthcare, it is your right to make a complaint. You can find out more about your rights as a patient and how to make a healthcare complaint on the Health Direct website.

Read more about living well

References

Australian Association of Social Workers. What is social work?

Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care. About nurses and midwives

Better Health Channel. Gastroenterologist services

Canadian Liver Foundation. Questions to ask your doctor

Cancer Council NSW. Your health care team

Diabetes Australia. NDSS

Dietitians Australia. Working in nutrition and dietetics in Australia

ESSA. What is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP)? 

Mayo Clinic. Liver disease.

Meriam Webster Dictionary. Hepatology

Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. About Specialist Surgeons

Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP). What is General Practice? 

Salgia R, Mendiratta V. The Multidisciplinary Management of Hepatocellular Carcinoma. Clin Liver Dis (Hoboken). 2021 Aug 5;17(6):405-408. doi: 10.1002/cld.1068. PMID: 34386204; PMCID: PMC8340356.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists. A career in clinical radiology

The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia. What is pathology?

Reviewed November 2022

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Keep up to date with activities, campaigns, developments and news.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.